Steve Ballmer Microsoft's Bing search engine may still be a minor player in the lucrative online search business dominated by Google, but it's steadily gaining users. And it appears that Bing's share is coming at the expense of both Google and Yahoo, the latter company having recently teamed up with Microsoft to be more competitive in online search.

The shape of the market all depends on whose search statistics you read: Hitwise's or comScore's. But the most likely scenario in the US search market is that Bing is gaining, Yahoo draining, and Google maintaining.

Bing the creeper

Analysis firm Experian Hitwise has released its US search market data for February, and the numbers show that Bing's slow push upward isn't running out of stream. Conversely, Yahoo's gradual decline continues. Google's trending downward too, albeit with a still-enviable market share.

Here's a quick January vs. February comparison chart for the big three search engines in the US:

December 2009 January 2010 February 2010
Google 72.25% 71.49% 70.95%
Yahoo 14.83% 14.57% 14.57%
Bing 8.92% 9.37% 9.70%

Source: Hitwise

Hitwise's data should give Google execs plenty to ponder. Microsoft's massive marketing push for Bing appears to be paying off. There's no reason to assume that Bing's advance will stall, particularly if Redmond succeeds in its aggressive foray into mobile search.

Rumours earlier this year had Apple in talks to make Bing the default search engine for the iPhone. That, however, could very well have been part of a strategic Apple bluff to win concessions from Google.

Microsoft has high hopes for its well-received Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system, which, of course, uses Bing as its default search engine. If Win Phone 7 grabs a significant share of the mobile OS market - a difficult task considering the rising number of Android-based devices, and the ongoing popularity of the iPhone - Bing could get another market share boost.

Google: same as it ever was?

Meanwhile, comScore has released its February numbers for the US search market. They show Google and Bing with slight gains, while Yahoo is down slightly:

January 2010 February 2010
Google 65.4% 65.5%
Yahoo 17.0% 16.8%
Bing 11.3% 11.5%

Source: comScore

Certainly, both the Hitwise and comScore numbers give Microsoft a reason to feel cautiously optimistic about Bing's chances. And the Microsoft-Yahoo search partnership allows Redmond to focus its energies on goliath Google, which can't afford to get too cocky, even with its hefty market share.

See also:

Microsoft Bing review

Ballmer: We'll beat Google in search

Bing boings but Google grows

PC World